HL Deb 13 December 1988 vol 502 cc824-6

2.59 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to improve traffic direction signs in Greater London.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we commissioned a study by consultants in 1986 to make an inventory of all trunk road direction signs within the M25 and to review the present system of signing. The study found that a large number of signs gave inconsistent or incorrect information, and that the system as a whole is out of date. For example it does not take account of the completion of the M25. The consultants recommended a new system of area signposting. We hope to be able to consult formally with the local authorities and interested organisations on the proposals in the new year.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Is he aware that at present the need is acute, and that in the vast metropolis it is rare to find any coherent system of traffic signs at main intersections? Where they exist they are not always helpful. Is my noble friend aware of a sign in the Wandsworth-Raynes Park area on which the north-west arm indicates to Oxford and the south-east arm of the sign indicates to Folkestone? Neither is helpful to people looking for Westminister or Wimbledon. Is my noble friend further aware that it would be helpful to all drivers to have a coherent system of signs, at least for the trunk roads carrying traffic from the periphery to the centre of London? Can he say how soon his preparatory work may burgeon into action so that we see it on the gound?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that the present system is totally unacceptable. Sixty-five per cent. of the 10,000 signs recorded were discovered to be unacceptable to varying degrees. If all goes well the new system could be installed in 1990.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the biggest faults in signing is having three names indicating the same direction but at the next sign, when there are only two names, one believes that one has gone the wrong way? I have often seen drivers with a map on the steering wheel and that strikes me as being a dangerous operation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the present system is unsatisfactory. The new system would work as follows: there would be a direction initially to one of 15 areas based on compass points—for example,—south-west London—and signposts within the area would carry the name of a strategic centre—for example, Kingston—and the new area destination. When the system is introduced it will solve the problems referred to by the noble Lord.

Lord Renton

My Lords, who is responsible for the introduction, and how is the cost to be borne?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the cost is estimated to be approximately £10 million at present prices. If that sounds a great deal of money I should point out that it would cost £5 million merely to put the present system right. I believe that it is good value therefore to spend the extra money on obtaining a new system. Eighty per cent. of the signs are on trunk roads and the cost would fall to the Government. The remaining 20 per cent. are on the non-trunk roads.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I acknowledge the Minister's encouraging reply. However, does he consider that many of the misleading and doubtful signs are not only an irritant but, in some cases, have definitely been the cause of nasty accidents?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is probably true Signs can also be the cause of congestion. It is hoped that the new signposting system will not route traffic to where it does not need to go.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, although what my noble friend Lord Nugent has said is bad enough, there are far too many signs in London which merely indicate "The North" or "The West" and that that is much less than helpful?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should have thought that if one wants go to to the North they are helpful.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the encouraging information which the Minister has given suggests that decisions have already been taken in respect of the type of scheme required; yet he referred to bodies being taken into consultation. Has a definite decision been taken on the form to be followed, or is there still to be consultation with the motoring organisations and the Road Haulage Association?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, yes, we hope to go to consultation early in the new year on the principles of the scheme, as I have outlined.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, indicated, a great many of the road traffic accidents which occur in built-up areas are caused by motorists taking their eyes off the road in a desperate attempt to discover where on earth they are? Therefore, in addition to the problem with the Department of Transport signs, will Her Majesty's Government make it compulsory for local authorities to ensure that the names of all streets are clearly indicated and visible from the road at every intersection?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the question about street names is slightly different from that on the Order Paper. However, I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to the proposal made by the noble Lord.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, will the Minister explain why it should cost £10 million to repaint a few signs?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I have attempted to describe, it is much more than repainting a few signs.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the fact that the problem is not confined to Greater London? May I suggest that if ever he is invited to Redditch in Worcestershire he avoids the town, because I believe that many people become trapped there and try to find their way out after having found their way into the town centre?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, if the system works perhaps it can be extended around the country.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that all the questions point to the fact that what we need is a London strategic authority?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

No, my Lords. The problems which I have outlined are not new and no doubt occurred when London was run by a different organisation. In strategic terms trunk roads are the predominant roads and there is a single authority for them; namely, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I do not know whether noble Lords received a circular this morning describing a system sponsored by Plessey which appears to be most appropriate. The company erects beacons all over the the country. You get into your car and tune into the beacon, at which point it takes charge and directs you to the point where you have indicated you want to go. It may be on the other side of London. You are instructed to turn right or to turn left until you reach your destination. Can anything so perfect work?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is a slightly different question from the one on the Order Paper. However, we shall be debating the subject on Thursday afternoon when we reach the Bill which deals with that system known as "auto guide". If the noble Lord, Lord Paget, or any other noble Lord would like to drive a car fitted with the device, I should be grateful if they would let me know.